Six Nations officials will meet in Paris on Monday to discuss the threat posed to the tournament by the spread of the coronavirus, but they are at the mercy of a situation that is entirely beyond their control.
Ireland’s game against Italy, in Dublin this day week, has already been postponed, and the meeting of the Azzurri and England, in Rome a week later, is also under threat, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the north of Italy.
Add in women’s and U20 games and sufficient confusion abounds, but the officials who will meet in the French capital next week, for what is officially a World Rugby rules-and-player-welfare symposium, know that any accords they reach could be overtaken by events.
Just rescheduling Ireland-Italy is proving to be a major headache.
Much has been made about the switching of three games from spring to September, back in 2001, when foot-and-mouth hit Britain and Ireland, but the rugby schedule was not the overburdened mess then that it is now.
The Celtic League, for instance, consisted of just half-a-dozen pool games, before a a knockout stage. The whole thing was over by mid-December and Ireland only played two November internationals in the time.
The logistical nightmare is all the more acute now, given the Euro 2020 soccer games to be played in the Aviva Stadium in June.
Uefa will effectively take over the venue at the start of May and thus make it unavailable to any other parties and the club season between now and then is full.
Jonathan Sexton suggested, yesterday, that the Ireland players would play the game behind closed doors, if it came to it, but such a course of action would bring with it all sorts of commercial and financial ramifications for the IRFU and Six Nations.
This is an issue that will have consequences far beyond the Six Nations and rugby. PRO14 organisers have already had to call off two games due to be played in Italy this weekend, one of them featuring Ulster, and are in the process of working out alternative dates.
Should none be found, for these or any other affected fixtures, then it has been decided that both teams concerned would be awarded two match points and the game deemed a 0-0 draw, as was the case for those games cancelled during last year’s World Cup in Japan.
As for the teams concerned, all they can do is carry on regardless.
Andy Farrell’s Ireland followed through with their mini-camp in Dublin this week and they will train next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, as planned, before substituting a weekend that wad due to bring Italy to Dublin with some extra down-time.
Farrell has confirmed that the senior team will train with Noel McNamara’s U20s again, prior to the end of the Six Nations, and that they will seek out other opposition to work alongside. One of the provinces would be an obvious candidate there.